From the genre gods (Guillermo del Toro, Stephen King) to the hot upstarts (James Wan and … Michael Bay?), these are the twisted talents raising the most hell right now in Hollywood.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A wide-ranging group of twisted talents made the cut for The Hollywood Reporter's Masters of Horror list.
Among those on the list are genre gods Guillermo del Toro and Stephen King along with some surprising entrants, including Michael Bay. Also on the list are young actresses Kiernan Shipka and Chloe Grace Moretz, the latter of whom owes her career to horror after starring in a remake of The Amityville Horror at age 6.
Says Moretz of playing King's heroine in the upcoming Carrie: "I think what worked for me is that I feel incredibly vulnerable around teenagers. I never went to high school. I never had the time to understand them."
Read more about THR's 20 Masters of Horror below (listed in alphabetical order).
Profiles written by Tim Appelo, Rebecca Ford, Lesley Goldberg, Marisa Guthrie, Borys Kit, Andy Lewis, Pamela McClintock, Tatiana Siegel and Rebecca Sun
Watching old Frankenstein movies transformed Baker from a normal teen into an obsessive who made monster mask-molds in his mom’s oven. He so startlingly turned a man to a beast in 1981’s An American Werewolf in London that the Academy — which hates creating new categories — nonetheless started an Oscar for makeup and gave Baker the first.
Baker, now 62, has said his tombstone will read, “This is the guy who did the American Werewolf in London makeup.” Or, more likely it will say, “This is the guy who got 12 Oscar nominations and seven wins” — so far. Since then, Baker has made Robert Downey Jr. black in Tropic Thunder, Eddie Murphy white in Coming to America and turned lots of people into monkeys for Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes.
“The easiest makeups are gross, bloody makeups,” he says. “You can cover your mistakes with blood, and when something gross is onscreen people look away. Trying to duplicate something people see every day is really tough.”
Baker’s latest challenge: Disney’s upcoming Maleficent, where he’ll make Angelina Jolie a proper fairy-tale villain. And now, with three intricate looks he created for MAC Cosmetics for Halloween, he knows the pressure is on for Oct. 31: “People expect a lot of me on Halloween.”
Given Bay’s considerable success in the megabudget action sphere — where his movies have grossed a staggering $4.7 billion — it may have struck some as odd when he began snapping up rights to a bunch of classic horror flicks from the 1970s and ’80s. But the 48-year-old says he was profoundly influenced by the genre growing up in Los Angeles during that period.
“Some of my favorites include The Exorcist and The Shining,” says Bay. “These are movies that stand the test of time.” Through his Platinum Dunes production company, he is able to relive a bit of his spine-tingling adolescence, dredging up such monsters as Leatherface (for 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its 2006 sequel), Freddy Krueger (2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason Voorhees (2009’s Friday the 13th) and Michael Myers (for an in-the-works Halloween III).
But amid a shifting horror landscape where the microbudget offering is all the rage, Bay is staying nimble. He teamed with producer Jason Blum on The Purge ($3 million budget; $87 million worldwide gross) and delved into the found-footage subgenre with the upcoming Almanac. Bay has yet to direct a horror film, but that might change. “I have a great fantasy — that I will probably make a reality — of directing my own self-financed horror movie,” he says.
And for the man who once sparred with his Transformers leading lady Megan Fox, horror has one definite upside: “I love this genre because the movie is the star.”
The Vassar graduate was an unlikely candidate to become Hollywood’s mastermind of the microbudgeted horror pic, responsible for the Paranormal and Insidious franchises, along with The Purge and Sinister. He got his start pursuing more serious-minded fare at Malaparte in New York City, the theater company founded by his friend Ethan Hawke, before joining Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films in 1995 as co-head of acquisitions and co-productions.
He left the Weinsteins in 2000 to form his own production company, Blumhouse, but floundered until a directing sample by Oren Peli crossed his desk in 2006. The film, set for a direct-to-DVD release, was Paranormal Activity. “I met with Oren the next day and told him I could get it into movie theaters,” recalls Blum. It took three years, but he did, and in 2009, the $15,000 movie grossed nearly $200 million worldwide to become one of the most profitable films in cinema history.
Blum, 44, who won’t make a horror film for more than $5 million (with most of his movies coming in cheaper), has repeated the same magic numerous times over, resulting in stunning profit margins. His company’s growing television footprint includes AIDS drama The Normal Heart — the HBO film that Ryan Murphy is directing for 2014 — but horror remains Blum’s chief preoccupation (for the second Halloween in a row, Blumhouse will host a haunted house at the historic Variety Arts Theater in downtown Los Angeles). “I think a lot of Hollywood looks down on horror,” says Blum. “It’s shortsighted, but I don’t mind.”
“Horror is in pretty good shape these days,” says Craven, the venerable director behind two of the biggest franchises in the genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. “There are a lot of young filmmakers interested in the genre who are finding good ways to get around studio expenses and making films that are astonishingly low-budget. When I do a low-budget these days, it’s $15 million.”
Yes, times certainly have changed for Craven, 74, who made his first horror movie, 1972’s controversial The Last House on the Left, for only $90,000 for a bunch of Boston theater owners. These days, the granddaddy of gore is seeing companies remake movies he made decades ago (The Hills Have Eyes, Nightmare on Elm Street, the aforementioned Last House on the Left) or try to squeeze every last ounce of blood from a franchise he co-created (Scream, which is headed to MTV).
Still, Craven admires the chutzpah of this new generation for blazing the non-studio trail. “It leaves a lot of power in the hands of filmmakers as opposed to being obliged to the people who are giving you millions to make a film.” But Craven isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He just joined Twitter, has a comic book with 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles titled Coming of Rage releasing at the end of October and is working on his first animated movie (about a little girl who is possessed) as well as his next feature, about environmental horror, global warming and the planetary reaction to that. “The good thing about horror,” says Craven, “is that you can adapt your concept to what’s going on historically around you.”
Horror, both real and fantastical, has been a part of del Toro’s life for as long as he can remember. As a child, he stood in his crib and watched The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone on the TV across the room. As a teen living in Mexico, he volunteered at a psychiatric hospital and snuck into the morgue next door: “In the beginning, I was fascinated by the images. And I feel that in many ways I still am,” he says, taking a break from shooting the pilot for FX’s vampire series The Strain, based on the novel he co-wrote with Chuck Hogan.
“There is a place in my heart that is truly only reached by the fantasy and horror genre.” One look at the films he has directed (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) or produced (The Orphanage, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Mama) and one can see del Toro always has striven to give horror a certain emotional poetry.
Del Toro’s creativity is on display in Cabinet of Curiosities, a new book offering a peek inside Bleak House, his amazing 10,000-square-foot compound in Agoura Hills, Calif. — a horror version of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch — and his personal journals.
“Every time I walk into Bleak House, I smile. It has this great creative effect on me. … The beauty of the genre is its range,” says del Toro, 49, who will shoot the gothic romantic horror film Crimson Peak in February. “In horror, there is always something left to do.”
After his long-gestating $10 million Munsters reboot Mockingbird Lane fizzled at NBC, Fuller delivered with the Silence of the Lambs prequel series Hannibal. The Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal Lecter) and Hugh Dancy (Will Graham) starrer opened to positive reviews and a modest debut in the network’s troubled 10 p.m. Thursday slot, built a devoted base and went on to earn a second-season renewal despite lackluster numbers. (Season one averaged 2.82 million total viewers; factoring in DVR viewing, Hannibal’s freshman run spiked an impressive 77 percent among the under-50 set.)
Of the artistic-yet-gruesome material featured on Hannibal, Fuller, 44, says it was a must to make the show stand out. “We want to make it difficult for audiences to turn away from it,” he says. “We strive to make it beautiful at the same time and value it as horrific — then and only then can you understand what Will goes through.” Death has been a major theme in Fuller’s work, which includes the high-concept dramas Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me.
“It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the human condition because it’s a wall we can’t see beyond,” says Fuller. “As a kid growing up, I went to a lot of funerals and was always fascinated by death. It seemed so far away. There are all sorts of ways to interpret how death affects you.”
If the King family business is horror — after all, King is the best-selling horror novelist in the world — then Hill will inherit the keys to the shop. “I resisted it at first, but it was always in the cards, I guess,” jokes Hill about following in the footsteps of his father.
Still, Hill, 41 — who shortened his middle name, Hillstrom, into his pen name to avoid comparisons to his dad — stands as his own man. His three novels have all been New York Times best-sellers--2007’s Heart-Shaped Box, this year’s NOS4A2 and 2010's Horns, which was adapted into a feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe that debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.
Of course, the giddy thrill of seeing one’s work on the big screen is old hat for King, who has had dozens of his books translated into film, starting with his first book, 1974’s Carrie — which is getting another run at moviegoers Oct. 18 with Chloe Moretz playing King’s telekinetic high school heroine. That’s just icing on the cake of an already stellar year for the 66-year-old: Two best-sellers hit shelves — Joyland, about a killer on the loose in an amusement park, and Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining — and the hit CBS miniseries based on King’s 2009 novel, Under the Dome, premiered.
“I don’t think my dad ever wrote anything where he thought, ‘Boy, this is going to sell,’ ” says Hill. “He strictly writes for the pleasure of entertaining himself, and the fact that the stuff turned out to be very successful is an afterthought.”
With The Walking Dead — TV’s No. 1 series among adults 18-to-49 — executive producers Kirkman and Nicotero kicked off TV’s modern horror renaissance and proved there’s a home for the oft-ignored genre on the small screen. Kirkman, 34, who 10 years ago created the comic book on which the zombie drama is based, says the AMC series did something different to bring horror back into the living room.
“There have always been attempts at horror on TV, but for the most part, it’s always been schlocky stuff,” he says. “The Walking Dead could have easily just been zombies walking around eating people, but we do a really heavy character story.” Nicotero, 50, chimes in from the vantage point of someone who has done special effects for decades, working on such movies as Evil Dead II, Misery, Scream, From Dusk Till Dawn and Kill Bill:
“The Walking Dead is not a comedy and it’s not a send-up — it respects the material, and that’s when you get a successful horror show.” And successful it is: The Walking Dead averages 10 million viewers a week and airs in more than 120 markets via Fox International Channels, where it frequently wins its night. AMC is looking to go back to the zombie well: It is developing a Walking Dead companion series that won’t feature any characters from the current TV series or the comic.
“Everyone is doing everything they can to make this a spinoff that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the original show,” says Kirkman, strongly suggesting Nicotero also would be involved. “I’m excited about getting into this world again and doing new things with it; 34-year-old me is competing with 23-year-old me to see what I can do.”
Moretz owes her career to horror. The actress starred in 2005’s remake of The Amityville Horror (which grossed $108 million worldwide) at the age of 6. “It was the first time I was ever scared on a set,” she says. “Ryan Reynolds picks me up in one scene and grabs me, and I remember walking away and telling my mom that it scared me a little.”
Her role as Chelsea, the youngest in a family living in a haunted home, led to a part in 2008’s The Eye, starring Jessica Alba. As a young teen in 2010, she played a troubled vampire in Let Me In and the vulgar kid vigilante Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, which won her the hearts of fanboys everywhere.
After charming families in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and camping it up in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, Moretz, 16, is returning to horror with Carrie, MGM and Screen Gems’ adaptation (out Oct. 18) of Stephen King’s 1974 novel. MGM originally was looking for an older actress (Sissy Spacek was 27 when she played the outcast who takes telekinetic revenge on her high school tormentors in Brian De Palma’s 1976 film).
But Moretz’s life as a home-schooled child star — and the professional maturity that comes with a résumé that’s 30 films deep — made her perfect for King’s very first heroine. “I think what worked for me is that I feel incredibly vulnerable around teenagers,” she says. “I never went to high school, I never had the time to understand them.”
Read THR’s Q&A with Chloe Grace Moretz here.
Murphy is no stranger to gore. His plastic surgery drama Nip/Tuck was groundbreaking in its gruesomeness. But with FX's American Horror Story, he has upped the ante. Coven, the third season in the anthology series (set to bow Oct. 9), boasts a triumvirate of veteran actresses including star Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett (who plays Marie Laveau, the so-called voodoo queen of New Orleans) and Kathy Bates (who plays a serial killer).
"She's incredibly sadistic and takes joy in giving others pain," says Bates of her character. Both actresses were fans of the show before Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk cast them. Bassett binge-watched the first two seasons: "I had to watch them during daylight hours with a friend."
Read THR's Q&A with Ryan Murphy here.
“No one wanted to distribute it. We got rejected by everyone in town two or three times,” says Peli, the writer-director who shot his first feature, 2007’s Paranormal Activity, in his San Diego home with a cast of unknowns for a meager $15,000. But with the support of Jason Blum, DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg, the haunted house horror pic eventually was released by Paramount and became the stuff of horror legend — it raked in an astounding $193.4 million worldwide.
Three sequels were produced by Peli and Blum, bringing the franchise’s total gross to $718.7 million. Peli is producing the fifth installment, hitting theaters October 2014, and a spinoff targeted at Latino audiences, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which will open in January.
The Israeli-American filmmaker also went on to produce the successful James Wan-helmed Insidious and Insidious Chapter 2, which recently became the second-highest September opener of all time. “I think horror has evolved over the last few years,” he says. “Now there’s much more variety in the landscape.”
Peli also is working on his next directorial vehicle, Area 51, about a group of reporters who visit the legendary supposed secret UFO base. He says that after all this success he just hopes to keep doing things that scare him: “The main thing that motivates me is to do something that I’ve never done before.”
Plec, 41, had been in Hollywood less than two years when she was hired as Wes Craven’s assistant while Craven was in post on the 1995 Eddie Murphy thriller Vampire in Brooklyn. It was while working for Craven that Plec met Kevin Williamson, who penned the screenplay for Craven’s Scream and became Plec’s second mentor.
Today, she has a list of horror credits including The CW hit The Vampire Diaries (which she created with Williamson), TVD spinoff The Originals, which bowed Oct. 3 to 2.15 million viewers, and a reboot of the classic British series The Tomorrow People, which premieres Oct. 9.
“I got to be a kid in the ’80s,” she says of her affinity for the genre. “Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine: the good ones, the bad ones, the sequels — I saw them all at slumber parties.”
The man best known for playing the Boy Who Lived has decided to flirt with grisly cinematic death. Radcliffe’s first movie after his eight-film Harry Potter odyssey came to an end with 2011’s Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was The Woman in Black — the first release from the rejuvenated British production company Hammer Films — and the gothic ghost story made a princely $127.8 million worldwide.
This year’s Toronto Film Festival saw the premiere of Horns — an adaptation of Joe Hill’s demonic novel that featured Radcliffe as its, yes, horned protagonist — which was acquired by Dimension-Radius TWC. Early in 2014, Radcliffe will shoot 20th Century Fox’s Frankenstein, in which he’ll play Igor opposite James McAvoy’s mad doctor. Radcliffe, 24, fully admits he isn’t a horror connoisseur — he loves his horror super-cheesy, in the Sharknado vein — but as an actor, he prefers to be associated with what he calls “horror plus.”
“It’s very easy to make a bad horror movie,” says Radcliffe, whose earliest memory of being scared out of his wits was when he saw the Ray Harryhausen-animated skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. “In the end, you have to give a shit about the people who are in danger. Otherwise, it’s all shocks and jumps and there’s no emotional investment.”
Fortunately, Roth likes dead things. “When I wrote Cabin Fever in 1995, people kept telling me horror is a dead genre, no one wants to see it, there’s no market for it,” recalls the maestro of torture. “My reply was, ‘Shitty movies are dead.’ ”
Roth, now 41, persisted and eventually raised the $1.5 million to shoot the flesh-dripping spectacle. The film marked Lionsgate’s first R-rated wide release in the genre, earning a surprise $31 million worldwide and helping pave the way for the studio’s Saw franchise.
Today, Roth’s directing credits also include Hostel, Hostel: Part II and the upcoming cannibal pic The Green Inferno, which will receive a wide release from Open Road. On the producing front, his biggest hit is 2010’s The Last Exorcism, which cost $1.8 million and earned $68 million worldwide. And in June, his Netflix horror series Hemlock Grove was renewed for a second season.
As for what’s left to accomplish, Roth is dying to work with Paul Giamatti. “I would love to write a part for Paul that becomes one of those performances like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, where he goes to the point of total and complete insanity.” Scarier things have happened.
Shipka has been living in another decade for several seasons as Don Draper’s outspoken daughter on Mad Men, but for THR’s Horror Issue, the starlet chose to be transported to another time and place — namely, the Overlook Hotel.
Shipka, who soon will take her own stab at horror when she stars in Lifetime’s adaptation of Flowers in the Attic, brought to life the iconic Grady twins from The Shining. “It’s such a psychological thriller. There’s so much hidden detail,” says the actress of the 1980 classic, based on the novel by Stephen King.
And though she’s only 13, Shipka already is a King fan: “His stories are so twisted. They make you think, and I think that’s what horror is about.”
When fans refer to him as “Stephen King for kids,” Stine admits he’s flattered by the comparison. It’s easy to see why they make it. Stine, 70, has sold more than 400 million books in multiple series, most notably Goosebumps (175-plus volumes) and Fear Street (150-plus volumes).
Up next could be the long-hoped-for Goosebumps movie with Jack Black — who is “90 percent signed,” says Stine — playing a fictional version of him as a retired horror writer who has to pen one last book after his fictional monsters leap from the page to the real world.
In 2012, he also published a well-reviewed adult horror novel, Red Rain, about murderous twin boys, because he “liked the challenge” of pursuing a new audience and he enjoyed the irony “of writing about evil kids after writing so many good ones.”
You might understand if the Australian director, 36, chose to rehash early success. His 2004 indie Saw (co-written by Leigh Whannell) was made for $1.2 million and grossed $103 million worldwide and spawned a seven-title franchise that collectively has generated $873 million while defining modern torture porn — though Wan considers the first installment, about a serial killer who devises a series of grisly traps for his prey, more of a psychological thriller.
So, while remaining an executive producer on the sequels, Wan explored other subgenres: “After Saw, I got put into a box that was somewhat limiting, so I reinvented myself with Insidious,” he says, referring to his 2011 possession pic that scared up $97 million worldwide — enough to greenlight a sequel, which was released this year, as was Wan’s The Conjuring (which made $305 million worldwide).
Wan craved yet another challenge — and landed none other than the seventh installment of the juggernaut Fast & Furious franchise, now in production: “I’m trying to stay true to the world that they’ve created but at the same time make it feel uniquely mine.”
The writer-director has been a regular in the indie horror scene since breaking through with 2009’s The House of the Devil, which generated an 86 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for West’s meticulous homage to early-’80s Satanic panic flicks. His 2011 haunted-hotel follow-up, The Innkeepers, also drew praise from critics: “West freshens up the horror genre with a distinctive, careful camera style and an ability to write with empathy and humor,” raved The New Yorker.
Noting West’s retro aesthetic, THR’s John DeFore predicted that his work would “please many die-hard genre aficionados.” Those audiences also flipped for West’s latest, the Eli Roth-produced Jonestown-esque thriller The Sacrament, which premiered in September at Venice and Toronto.
“Horror is a borderline experimental genre,” he says. “That’s what’s so exciting about it.” Still, West, 33, is ready to move on — for now. He has several scripts on his shelf, ranging from a “traditional Clint Eastwood-style Western” to an “After Hours-type dark romantic comedy,” but the one he’s most excited to shoot is a gritty True Romance-esque road drama. He confides, “I’m horror-ed out for the time being.”
Read THR's complete Masters of Horror list here.
Williamson has a special place in the slasher canon. His 1996 shockbuster Scream (directed by Wes Craven) helped usher in an era of irony in popular entertainment. Scream grossed $173 million worldwide and helped to revive the teen-horror genre, which would also include Williamson’s I Know What You Did Last Summer franchise.
Williamson took a hiatus from horror after writing and directing 1999’s Teaching Mrs. Tingle, but he returned in 2009 with The Vampire Diaries, which he wrote and produced with Julie Plec and which remains The CW’s most popular program, averaging nearly 4 million viewers per episode last season.
Meanwhile, The Following — about a fallen FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) tracking a murderous cult leader (James Purefoy) — was the No. 1 new drama of the 2012-13 season, pulling in close to 12 million viewers an episode for Fox. “To me, The Following has always been about rebirth,” explains Williamson. “In a lot of ways, I think it’s one big allegory for one man’s midlife crisis.”
It was his mother — a homemaker and voracious reader — who inspired Williamson, 48, to become a writer. She bought him a typewriter when he was 10. But it was John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween that inspired him to become a filmmaker. “It was the first time I watched everyone collectively band together and participate in a film,” he recalls. “The audience was screaming at the screen: ‘Don’t drop the knife! Don’t drop the knife!’ They were so invested!”
Even before embarking on his second career as a filmmaker, Zombie has had an impact on horror cinema during the past two decades, as music from White Zombie and his solo work have been a natural fit for such films as Bride of Chucky, The Covenant and End of Days.
So when the rocker — born Robert Cummings in Massachusetts 48 years ago — picked up a camera for his first feature, Lionsgate’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003), it should come as no shock that the twisted slasher pic and its sequel, 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, became cult hits. Zombie even received John Carpenter’s blessing to remake Halloween for Dimension in 2007, and it became the franchise’s highest-earning installment, bringing in $80.3 million worldwide.
For his most recent feature, 2012’s wickedly witchy The Lords of Salem, he returned to low-budget filmmaking (and partnered with producer Jason Blum) in order to make a “weirder, artsier film. When things are weird, you can do whatever,” says Zombie. “I don’t like feeling like I always have to deliver something just like this.”
Which might explain the writer-director’s next project, Broad Street Bullies, whose subjects are neither witches nor serial killers but the Stanley Cup-winning 1974 Philadelphia Flyers. “I like the human element more than the blood and guts,” says Zombie — perhaps, by his definition, the weirdest statement he’s ever made.